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Nikko Travel Guide: 338 reviews and 1,048 photos

Nikko's shrines and temples have been classified by UNESCO as a World Heritage site and deservedly so. Its many temples and shrines are just beautiful and religiously sacred.

The site is made up of the Futarasan Shrine, Toshogu Shrine and the Rinnoji Temple and the surrounding buildings. They occupy more than 400 hectares in total.

Nikko is located about 125 kilometers exactly north of Tokyo and makes a good one or two day trip from Tokyo.


The Toshogu Shrine was built in 1617 as the mausoleum of the Tokugawa Ieyasu, founder of the Tokugawa shogunate, which ruled Japan for over 250 years until 1868.
The lavishly decorated shrine complex consists of more than a dozen Shinto and Buddhist buildings. It was meant as a simple mausoleum, but through the efforts of Ieyasu's grandson, the third shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, who built the main shrine buildings in 1636, Toshogu shrine was enlarged and became the spectacular compound that is seen by thousands of visitors today.

Elaborate wood carvings and gold leaf were used to decorate the buildings, lending themselves to the skills of the master builders at the time. It is interesting to note that the Toshogu Shrine's attractive and lavish decorations and structure were considered obsentatious at a time when simplicity has been the tradition for shrine architecture.

Eight buildings such as the Honden (main hall), the Ishinoma (stone hall), the Haiden (worship hall), and the Yomeimon (main gate) have been designated as National Treasures, whereas further thirty-four buildings as Important Cultural Properties.

It is also interesting to note that the shrine is also dedicated to two other important historical figures, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, a 16th century general, and Minamoto Yoritomo, a 12th century shogun.

Rinnoji Temple

Rinnoji is Nikko's most important temple, and its origin can be traced back to the Shihonryuji Temple, which was erected by Priest Shodo, the founder of the temple complex at Nikko. Since 1653, when the Taiyuin was build as the mausoleum of the third shogun Tokugawa Iemitsu, the temple was used as the religious base for the Tokugawa Shogunate.

The main shrine, the Ainoma room and the Haiden (worship hall) of the Taiyuin Reibyo (mausoleum) have been designated as National Treasures, whereas further 37 buildings as Important Cultural Properties.

Pros and Cons
  • Pros:Culturally Rich Heritage. Lavish Religious Buildings
  • Cons:Crowded and Touristy in Summer and National Holidays
  • Last visit to Nikko: Feb 2003
  • Intro Updated May 9, 2016
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“If you reject the food, ignore the customs, fear the religion and avoid the people, you might better stay home.”

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